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“Echo”: The Unaired Dollhouse Pilot

July 29, 2009

Dollhouse poster I received my pre-ordered copy of Dollhouse season 1 in the mail today.  Hurrah!   The first thing I decided to watch was the infamous unaired pilot: “Echo.” As has been explained in countless interviews, the original pilot, written and directed by Joss Whedon, was scrapped and used for parts. Much of what is in it we did eventually see, but it runs on a different time-line than the aired episodes. There’s also some never-before-seen stuff in the episode, and in the deleted scenes of said pilot.  Here we go. The episode begins with Echo swimming in the Dollhouse pool–a scene we’re familiar with from the trailer. Adelle gives a long and fascinating monologue, most of which we have heard in the original show trailer, and possibly at some other point. She describes the adult world as a “dense thicket of complication and disappointment. Unbearable for some, and even for the luckiest at times, more than we can handle.” There’s that Whedonesque optimism I know and love.

Cut to a bar scene with a sketchy guy and a somewhat trashy looking blonde. Said blonde is played by the actress who Alpha killed in “Omega,” Ashley Johnson. Not that Alpha killed the actress, he killed her character, or the body of the character, whose personality had been wiped and then imprinted with Caroline. Confused yet? Anyways, Echo comes in and punches the skeevy guy who had been feeding the girl a line about how special she was. Echo awesomely scares the hell out of the bad man, but the girl is less than thankful at first. Echo clarifies, “I am you, dumb-ass. I’m the ghost of fucking Christmas past […] This is why I’m here, to save you.”

We then cut to that wedding scene from trailer, which we never actually saw in an episode. Echo is wearing a beautiful red dress and looking gorgeous. She is conversing with the bride at a wedding reception, when her date approaches to ask her to dance. He is an average-looking balding man. It seems that he hired an active to make the bride, an ex-girlfriend who dumped him, jealous. Mission accomplished. Hee.

Cut to another scene from the trailer in which Echo is speaking Spanish to a few guys with guns. We see Boyd for the first time, who is keeping track of her. These cuts are done quickly, so that we can get the immediate sense of the many imprints which Echo has.

We then see a client meeting with Adelle. She’s schooling him on the rules of the DH, and the science. Exposition, yay! We get a lot of info here about what the house is all about. Adelle clarifies that the client is always alone with the doll, and that the handler only monitors the active internally, with no idea what happened on the engagement. She also explains the whole urge to get a treatment following an engagement, and the subsequent wiping. “This isn’t just about what you want. This is about what you need. An active doesn’t judge, doesn’t pretend. This will be the purest most genuine human encounter of your life … and hers.” As this monologue is going on, we see a flash of Echo helping the trashy blonde again.

There’s some flashy camera stuff, and it becomes clear that we’re seeing Echo get wiped. She wakes up in the chair. The classic Q & A ensues. As Echo leaves the imprint room, we see the beautiful set (which still reminds me of the Wolfram & Hart offices). Credits: It’s the Eliza show. Guest-starring Amy Acker comes across the screen! I don’t remember whether we got to see her in “Ghost.” We see all the dolls enjoying their massages, exercise, showers, etc. Echo jumps into the pool.

Cut to a very different pool. Tahmoh! Paul is talking to Victor, who is in his Lubov persona. A very familiar scene ensues, in which Victor gives his “Yeah, people are mostly crap” line. This is all stuff we’ve seen, so I’ll forgo recapping it.

We then cut to see Sierra in the Dollhouse elevator, wearing a 30s-style hair-do, a pink dress and pearls. She has a cut on her forehead and is visibly upset. Then it cuts to Sierra and Echo as actives, bonding over breakfast. They talk about trying to be their best. The camera pans to show Victor. This reveal is very early on, as opposed to in the aired show. Things play out very differently with him and Ballard and the ultimate conclusion of their connection. Topher and Boyd watch the trio, and talk about their grouping. Topher: “This isn’t a book-club man-friend. This is the herd.” Boyd: “They’re not bison, Topher.” Topher: “They’re a little bit bison.” Hee. Topher scoffs at Boyd and Dr. Saunders and their “self-lacerating crap.” Hee. Boyd expresses some doubt about the voluntary nature of the program. Topher retorts: “Wait, you are not allowed to have conspiracy theories when you in the employ of the conspiracy.” Hee. Topher then gives the company line about signing up and leaving rich and happy. Then we get some stuff we haven’t seen, in which Topher points out the absurdity of societal conventions. He points out Boyd’s tie, and how it serves no functional purpose except as a symbol of status, etc. He points out other societal tendencies such as only eating eggs at breakfast, etc. “Everybody’s programmed, Boyd.” Somebody went to college and read about theory.  Boyd responds by pointing out that Topher really spent time on his self-justification. I bet.

Meanwhile, Ballard goes back to the office, where a fellow agent makes fun of him. Aww, poor handsome man.  Then a package arrives for him with picture of Caroline. Loomis, minus her awesome earrings, helps him out. Btw, she was on True Blood recently as a scamming exorcist. Paul convinces her to scan the photo.

Adelle: “Well this is spectacularly unacceptable.” Love it. Dominic is there and they are watching footage of Ballard making progress in his investigation. “Victor was supposed to throw him off.” They don’t know who sent Ballard the picture. Adelle says, “Taking him out is a last resort. If he has the picture he may have more.”

Cut to Topher in the imprint room. Victor is being programmed.

We then see Victor/ Lubov give the phone call wherein he tricks Paul into going into the empty warehouse (which happened much later in the aired show). In this episode it plays out very differently. Paul enters the abandoned building. He hears a noise and finds Echo. This is a scene from the trailers and promos that I always wondered about. I guess Joss and Co. decided it was better to wait for the Echo-Paul meet-up, which I think was a good call. In the aired show, they don’t meet until episode 6 I believe. Correct me if I’m wrong. However, I’ll be re-watching the season, so I shall know soon enough. Anyways, Ballard inspects her wallet, which has an ID with the name Shauna Vickers. He asks her middle name. He clearly doesn’t believe her. He then introduces himself. She says that she’s looking for her sister, and that the feds have not been much help: “Eight months she’s gone and nobody moves a muscle.” She’s pissed. He tells her that he has her picture–that someone sent it to him. There’s a noise, and he tells her to come with him.

Back at the Dollhouse, Topher is wandering around. He snoops in Dr. Saunders’ office, and refers to her as “Phantom” for the second time. He’s startled by her entry. She reminds him about the privacy policy for files. He says that he feels “oogy” about rules. He then says that he doesn’t want the file anymore. Dr. Saunders: “You’re stealing things you have a perfect right to.” Topher: “Can you promise to keep a secret?” Dr. Saunders: “No.” Hee. Topher proceeds to complain about Dr. Saunders pushing the pro bono work on the actives. Dr. Saunders says that she’s compiling a report, and that all the actives on such engagements are improving. Topher: “It’s not my job to improve them, Doc. I have to keep them right where they are. You of all people should know what happens when one of them … ” Alpha is clearly the elephant in the room, and it is clear that Topher is nursing a significant amount of guilt and fear. Dr. Saunders: “There is a physical need for something other than fulfilling the needs of the rich.” Knowing what we now know, this scene is pretty powerful. At the end of the conversation, Topher really seems to devolve into self-justification: “I program them so that it feels good!” Yeah, you just keep telling yourself that.

Meanwhile, Echo is in Paul’s apartment. When Paul asks her if she wants anything to drink, she hilariously asks for a wine cooler. Paul: “I didn’t even know they still made those.” Hee. We learn that Paul is divorced (did we know that already?).

Boyd and Topher discuss Dr. Saunders. Topher says that she’s creepy: “C’mon she could have something done about those scars.” Topher is clearly haunted by Alpha incident. Again, this means so much more now that we know that Dr. Saunders is Whiskey.

Back at Paul’s apartment, Echo drinks some white wine (not wine coolers, but I guess it does the trick). She seemingly opens up to Paul, and then acts embarassed: “I’m trying so hard not to be such a girl.” Paul: “I think you blew that with the wine-cooler.” Hee. Paul goes to get the files, and when Echo stands up she gets faint. She is laying it on pretty thick, and I started to suspect something at this point. He seems to be loving her admiration, and milking it up. He gives a whole speech questioning whether anything he does really matters, blah blah blah. Then he pulls a gun on her, accusing her of being “nobody” in a convoluted speech about how she’s giving him everything that he wants. She knocks the gun away in a highly trained manner, so it is clear that there is more to her imprint then we thought. She says, “I’m not nobody,” as seen in one of the promos. He asks her if she’s Caroline, and she looks upset/ concerned/ startled, then shoots him twice in the chest. Boyd comes in and we learn that her imprint is an assassin, but Boyd thought she was just a spy. Echo sees the photo of herself when she looks down, and it is clear that this is a bit unsettling.

Paul is taken to the hospital, and somehow Boyd talks to some people there and finds out that Paul didn’t die. Echo pulls out her gun to go finish the job. Boyd stands by helpless. Do something! Echo makes it to the hospital, and is on her way to Paul’s room. Meanwhile, Boyd asks if Topher can shut her down, and Topher brings up the Remote Wipe. We didn’t get that until episode 3 of the aired show. Topher says that they’re sketchy and would leave her helpless (as we saw in “Gray Hour”). As this is going on, Adelle gets a phone call that seems to call off the kill order. Boyd makes it to the hospital and calls it off, presumably on Adelle’s orders. Echo is wiped again and Adele greets her in passing. Dr. Saunders looks on. Adelle chastises Topher: “Agent Ballard lives. Point blank, two slugs, he’ll be walking in a week. How is that possible?” Topher says that he gave her the skills, which causes Adelle to be concerned that perhaps missing vital organs could have been intentional. She tells them to watch Echo carefully. We see Echo go to sleep in her pod, and she whispers Caroline.

Deleted scenes from the pilot: there are several. There’s a whole other storyline with Ashley Johnson playing a different character, whom we learn is named Hayden Leeds. Hayden is waiting in line to get into a club, and she manages to impress Echo/ Max by saying that she doesn’t know who she is and that her boobs are from God. Hee. I think Max is my favorite imprint that Eliza has played (other than Omega), so too bad these scenes were cut. Max makes fun of Hayden’s older brother Travis (they come from a rich and prominent family), likening him to Bono in his celebrity-philanthropy. She then gives a whole story about her grief over her dead ficus. I kid you not.  Hee. Then we see Hayden’s brother talking to Adelle about how out of control his sister has become, and how worried he and his mom are. Now the job makes sense, but it’s not pro bono, which explains why they cut it. However, I really like this storyline! Travis is very preppy, wearing a collared shirt and sweater. After his heartfelt speech about wanting to reclaim his sister, he changes gears and asks for Asian twins. Ah, there’s that cynical presentation of life we’ve been missing.

The last of the cut scenes is a longer Topher and Dr. Saunder’s encounter. Dr. Saunders confirms the grouping tendency which Topher had noticed. There is little more anger and intensity between the two in this version. Dr. Saunders brings up the attic, showing concern that Echo might be placed there. When Dr. Saunders finds out about Echo being on assignment with Ballard she is very upset. K, that’s all for now. I’m going to watch “Epitaph One” and go to bed. I will post about that tomorrow.

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